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Report doubts U.S. claim that all POWs out of Asia

Government documents cast serious doubt on the U.S. contention that no Americans who fought in Southeast Asia are still held there, according to a report by the Republican staff of a senate committee. The report, released Monday, accuses the Defense Department of reaching a negative conclusion about missing Americans and then undermining contrary evidence.

Defense intelligence discredited _ often in error _ sighting reports about U.S. personnel from hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos during the 1970s and 1980s, the report said. It also contended that some witnesses may have been intimidated and that information was dismissed on technicalities.

The government has said there is no evidence that American prisoners are alive in Southeast Asia _ or that any were left behind alive when U.S. prisoners were returned in 1973.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Ken Satterfield, said the department had not received the report and had no comment.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Republican staff said, "Classified, declassified and unclassified information all confirm one startling fact: That the Defense Department in April 1974 concluded beyond a doubt that several hundred living American POWs remained in captivity in Southeast Asia."

Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., ranking GOP member on the Foreign Relations Committee and a critic of the improving relations between the United States and Vietnam, requested the study.

The government considers 2,103 personnel missing since U.S. forces withdrew from Southeast Asia nearly 20 years ago. More than 55,000 Americans died in the war.